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India look to survive battle for Eden

The series will come in handy for both teams to check each other before the World Cup, reports Nilankur Das.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2007 12:31 IST

Except for playing under lights and the weather-induced adjustments that sides chasing have to bear in mind, the Eden Gardens is set to kick-start the Hero Honda Cup as the final leg of preparations for the World Cup on Thursday.

None of the matches in the Caribbean will be under lights and so the experience of handling the evening dew, which could be a factor here, would be restricted to this match only.

But what will come in handy is the chance for both teams to check each other before they again meet in the league phase of the quadrennial showpiece on neutral territory.

And a reckoner for skipper Rahul Dravid and coach Greg Chappell to sit and analyse the progress made by one team in comparison to the other since the two met last in 2005 when the series outcome resembled a tennis score.

Ever since the 1-6 loss, Sri Lanka have recovered a lot of ground and more so in the last six months with good performances against England and New Zealand.

India have seen more ups than downs in this phase that has seen Sourav Ganguly — much like Sanath Jayasuriya — getting dropped and then making a grand comeback and also, the rise and fall of Irfan Pathan.

Ganguly is in very good form and the sellout Eden Gardens would definitely like a big one from him this time — something that has been long due on home turf.

In fact, not one 50 in his over 10,000 ODI runs has been scored here. He will open with Robin Uthappa and the roar of close to 90,000 he is used to hearing every time while walking out to bat here should not put the Karnataka youngster under extra pressure.

Replacing someone like Virender Sehwag is not easy even though the Delhi dynamo has been struggling to explode. But playing well enough on Thursday with Sehwag set to bat in the middle order will be something. Sehwag hardly has a choice but to wait for whatever he gets at least in the first two games, for the squad for the last two will be named later.

After being sent back from South Africa, Pathan is again trying hard to earn his place back and so is Yuvraj Singh after his long injury lay-off. But both are not fully fit for the Thursday showdown.

While Pathan did not bowl in the two sessions here after bruising his shoulder while fielding on Tuesday, Yuvraj has a back problem and did not train on Wednesday. Ajit Agarkar, who arrived on Tuesday evening, too is suffering from flu and skipped the nets.

The uncertainties thus forced skipper Rahul Dravid to hold back announcing the 12. It also forced the selectors to send an SoS to Bengal batsman Manoj Tiwary to become the 12th man, only for Thursday's match.

With Pathan unlikely to bowl and Agarkar down, Munaf Patel should be raring to prove himself fully fit to bowl full throttle whenever Dravid throws the ball to him.

He did seem to run in hard at the nets on Wednesday but again as the India skipper put it: "It's a different ball game in the middle".

He is unlikely to get much assistance from the baldish wicket because if the first-class matches played on these strips are an indication, then it is safe to say it would be on the slower side and demand a bit of controlled aggression from the batsmen.

Dew will be there in the evening but its intensity was completely different on Monday, when it was excessive and on Tuesday evening when it was quite low when Sri Lanka trained. But Dravid negated it by saying: "Both the toss and the dew factor are beyond our control. We will have to concentrate and do well in the departments that are in our hands."

There are a few in his team who would be desperate to do just that in the next two matches.